INTEGRATION: Consultancies and in-house are realising the benefits of
taking a designer on board
MAGAZINES: Contract publishing and in-house titles can become award
winners with the use of bold images
BRANDING: Design and PR considerations are integral elements in updating
or creating any brand’s image
With 80 per cent of information that a person receives being visual,
design has to play a vital role in any communications strategy. Mary Cowlett and Kate Nicholas report
You did the two day course and you can use the software. You can tint,
you can wrap, you can even import. But does being fully conversant with
the latest desk top publishing technology really mean that as a public
relations professional, you are also qualified as a designer?
In a crowded and integrated market place, a growing number of PR
consultancies have been broadening their horizons to offer design and
print production. Many of the larger agencies have set up their own
design facilities staffed by experienced designers.
In January this year Dick Lumsden former head of Paragon’s design and
production department crossed over to Charles Barker to spearhead its
move into the design arena. Ten months down the line, Charles Barker
Publishing is putting together display stands for the Tory party
conference, and adding a design dimension to the agency’s Motor Show
campaign with the in-house production of everything from publicity
posters and leaflets to press launch invitations and the publication of
the trade show brochure.
Hill and Knowlton has a dedicated creative department; Fishburn Hedges
integrated design and production resource supports its investor
relations work with production of annual reports and other literature;
and a four-strong team at Burson-Marsteller handles everything from the
design of branded banners and promotional tools to newsletters.
According to Burson-Marsteller production manager Steve Vaughan, the
main benefit of bringing a design facility in-house is the speed of
turnaround ‘Being in-house it [the design] is there instantly on the
screen if an executive wants to have a look at it.’
It is perhaps in the area of contract publishing that PR consultancies
have most effectively taken on the mantle of designer. Dewe Rogerson,
Citigate and Key Communications all have their own contract publishing
resources and Paragon even produces two customer magazines, Jubilee
Update for Jubilee line customers and Switched On for Hutchison Paging.
Citigate Publishing produces over 30 titles, including internal
publications for London Transport and the Police Federation. According
to creative director Graham Cook, one of the reasons for the division’s
success has been its ability to stand back from the kind of company
concerns that can lead to unacceptable compromises. We can be more
objective both in editorial and design terms as we are not involved in
the internal struggles of an organisation,’ he says.
But for many agencies - without the financial resources to buy in
qualified design staff - design is all too often underestimated as an
element of effective communication.
‘Most PR companies have been happy in the past to subcontract the design
element, on the basis that where they make their mark is in the
intellectual property,’ says Lumsdon, managing director of Charles
‘PR companies often underestimate the power and potential impact of
design and view it as another way to make money out of clients,’ agrees
Guilia Landor, managing partner of Spencer Landor Corporate Design. ‘It
is a well known fact that 80 per cent of the information a person
receives is visual, design is therefore a vital part of any
Not surprisingly, Landor insists that ‘design and PR are quite distinct
specialisms/disciplines and therefore PR companies cannot offer the
standard or quality of design expertise and professionalism that design
companies can offer particularly on identity projects,’
Lorna Bateman, business development manager of design company Tayburn
McIlroy Coates agrees the majority of PR consultancies are somewhat
lacking in design skills. ‘The best and most effective creative work is
a result of a combination of years of design training, outstanding
creative ability, marketing understanding, technical expertise, strong
design management and ultimately passion for design and creativity. Show
me a PR person with these skills and I’ll tell you they should change
profession and become a designer not a PR manager.’
While it is hardly news that designers protect their own corner, the
plethora of mediocre invitations, press packs, press releases and
newsletters that land on editors’ desks every day testify to the
industry’s lack of visual acumen.
‘I would love to spend half a day collecting press releases from the bin
of a beauty or fashion editor on a top women’s consumer title.’ says
Nick Attenborough, managing director of Attenborough Associates. ‘We
need to think about how we present ourselves to the press.’
However, with an increasing emphasis on internal communications, many
agencies are finding themselves asked to take on the role of designer
and publisher of in-house newsletters by clients, when their design
facilities often consist of little more than an account executive on an
Apple Mac. But by diversifying in this way, aren’t PR professionals in
danger of becoming jacks of all trades and masters of none?
Paul Noble, leader of the public relations course at Bournemouth
University, says his students are all now required to study design,
photography and desk top publishing as part of the course, but insists
that the purpose of learning these skills is not so that they can double
up as publishers and designers, but so that they understand the
fundamentals of design. ‘It is not necessarily to be able to do it
themselves, but to know how to brief and deal with those that can.’
Ironically, while all too aware of the shortcomings of their own
clients’ briefs, it seems that a disturbing number of PR professionals
don’t know how to brief a design consultancy properly.
‘To get good design the brief is everything’ says Paul Houlton creative
partner of The Grand Design, a design company with a PR and marketing
arm. Houlton says that working with marketing or PR executives who fancy
themselves as designers is ‘a total nightmare’.
So what is the perfect brief? According to Houlton, a designer is most
creative and productive when given a structured marketing brief and
allowed to get on with what he or she is good at.
For example, last year design company Product First were given what must
be a dream brief by the Public Relations Practice on behalf of its
client British Steel Strip Products. As part of a campaign to promote
the potential of steel as a material to designers, the PR consultancy
asked Product First to sketch out a series of products showing the
potential of steel. ‘We gave them almost carte blanche and said ‘using
your design knowledge plus your knowledge of the materials, make
predictions about the way the product could be used.’’ The resulting
concept product sketches were so innovative that Turner was able to
arrange for two of the ideas - a futuristic dog kennel and TV - to be
made up and exhibited in the Design Museum.
While this kind of use of 3D design as a pivotal element of a PR
campaign is still relatively rare - with most agencies still struggling
with 2D graphics - with the increasing integration of marketing
disciplines, a real design sense is likely to become as important an
asset to the PR operator as a nose for a story.
Magazine design: Bold images put Alpha first at BNFL
Alpha, BNFL’s corporate magazine, was launched in April 1995 as a
biannual title. It has a print run of 14,000, around 40 pages and a
budget of pounds 35,000. With an editorial team of two, the magazine is
aimed at informing on nuclear issues and the company’s abilities and
activities in the UK and abroad.
The magazine has to communicate to a wide audience, from those working
in the industry to opinion formers and members of the public, all of
whom have varying levels of knowledge and different information needs.
Editor Steve Howarth is head of employee relations for BNFL and also
edits BNFL News, the monthly internal magazine. This means that a number
of items from BNFL News are expanded in Alpha and given a slant more
suitable for external consumption. Likewise some of the photographic
costs are shared between the two titles.
While the editorial and most of the supporting photography is provided
by BNFL, design is outsourced to Barkers Trident Communications, which
won the Alpha account because, says Howarth, their design stood out as
‘totally different from other magazine designs’.
Alpha is glossy with strong images and the overall design presents
information by topic, in an easy accessible format.
Alpha has also helped BNFL win credibility within the power industry by
featuring external experts and by not sugar coating the negative aspects
of the industry. While many of the images are bold, they do not duck
being brave. The launch issue sees a fist clenching President Clinton,
with an atomic weapon firing behind him.
Howarth stresses the importance of Alpha’s editorial integrity but
points out that as BNFL increasingly looks abroad for business, the role
of Alpha as the company’s ‘shop window to the world’ becomes more
The magazine is now used by BNFL’s International Marketing Department
rather than their own customer newsletter and in 1995, it won the North
west region IPR award for best newsletter.
Filofax: A new page in the history of the eighties icon
Filofax, the yuppie fashion and design icon of the 1980s, celebrated
it’s 75th anniversary this year. To publicise the event and enhance the
brand’s image, Attenborough Associates - Filofax’s retained agency since
September 1995 - came up with the idea of an integrated design campaign.
The aim was to update Filofax’s somewhat old fashioned image,
capitalising on the brand’s 75 year heritage and making the brand
relevant to today and the future.
In January 1996, Attenborough Associates commissioned design agency
Still Waters Run Deep to design a special anniversary pack to be sent to
journalists and trade customers. Produced as a poster in Filofax
colours, postcards were used to illustrate events from the past 75 years
that have affected modern times.
At the start of April a two week exhibition was held at the Design
Museum, entitled Filofax - Past, Present and Future. The exhibition,
organised by Orna Dawson, showed memorabilia, and current and futuristic
Filofaxes. These were mounted on huge Filofax- style pages incorporating
the ring binder effect. The exhibition was taken to Japan, Singapore,
Denmark, France and Germany and there are plans to take it to Norway and
In March, students at Central St Martin’s College were asked to create a
Filofax for the future reflecting likely lifestyles and materials for
the year 2071. They had to stick to the essential Filofax design of an
‘outer containing a loose leaf inner’. The winning entries were also
displayed in mock-up form in the Design Museum exhibition.
In August, the company launched 1,921 limited editions of its personal
organisers to be sold around the world based on a design owned by Grace
Scurr, who saved the company’s records in her ‘file of facts’ during the
At the moment the company is collecting personalised Filofax pages from
celebrities such as Dawn French and Claudia Schiffer to create a one off
limited edition Filofax to be auctioned in December in aid of the
charity, Save The Children.
‘Filofax is a very simple concept’ says Jill Pinnington, marketing
controller at Filofax. ‘We like to keep up with fashions using colours
and textures so design is important.’ She also points out that it was
fashion designer Paul Smith who started the Filofax trend of the 1980s,
by stocking it in his store.
Case study: Proving design and PR can go hand in hand
QuesTech is an independent UK manufacturer of digital video editing and
special effects equipment for UK and European broadcast and TV
production companies - in layman’s terms the people responsible for the
folding, flipping and peeling screens of shows such as Top of the Pops,
The Clothes Show and Top Gear.
Two years ago, the company hired PR consultancy Roger Staton Associates
and its sister company ArtHaus to co-ordinate an integrated media and
ArtHaus, Roger Staton’s highly profitable ‘sideline’ started life eight
years ago, when an increasing demand from the agency’s industry and
technology client base for associated design work, led to the hiring of
an in-house designer. Today ArtHaus, headed by managing director Mark
Luckett, has a staff of eight with around 50 per cent of its income
generated from independent clients including other PR consultancies.
According to Luckett, it was the close integration of the two
disciplines that attracted QuesTech. ‘They wanted a consultancy that
understood their products at a technical level but would use the
knowledge to communicate to a wider audience,’ he says.
Promoting QuesTech was particularly challenging given its diverse target
audience ranging from specifiers with a high level of technical
knowledge, to more creatively minded programme editors. As a niche
player, QuesTech was also in competition with major electronics
companies with a high street presence.
Roger Staton and ArtHaus were tasked with creating a unified graphic
presence out of the fragmentary approach which resulted from the
previous use of several design agencies.
Roger Staton and ArtHaus also faced the challenge of presenting highly
technical information in the kind of lively and creative manner that
would appeal to end users.
Roger Staton created the textual copy working in close conjunction with
ArtHaus to ensure that visuals and text complemented each other.
Together they produced a worldwide advertising campaign based on high
profile case histories, including work done for ITN, as well as company
brochures, technical literature, direct mail leaflets, exhibition
support and QuesTech’s web site.
Both Mark Luckett and Roger Staton Associates MD and namesake Roger
Staton are enthusiastic about their working relationship. Luckett says
that his PR counterparts have a good understanding of design - the only
problems he has ever faced have been when working with outside PR
‘You get a wider spectrum of ideas because of the spread of skills and
perspective on the business, plus clients get faster implementation in
creation and updating. Clients also like it because they only have to
brief one organisation, resulting in a unified approach,’ says Luckett.